This article was written by James Tolley, a nutritional therapist who operates the Evolutionary Training Room in London.
What you eat and when you eat it are of critical importance, particularly when training. Most people know that during training or competition it is important to keep hydrated and take in additional energy in the form of carbohydrate. There is an old saying in exercise physiology, “Fat burns in a carbohydrate flame”. This is true, but post-exercise nutrition is often overlooked, it is of critical importance for recovery and could mean the difference between coming out for your next fight in a tournament mentally fresh and in peak physical condition or feeling weak and lethargic. I know which I would prefer and have developed a simple recipe to prepare a post-exercise drink to help you maximise recovery during this critical time period.
What is the point of post-training nutrition?
Post-exercise nutrition is the most significant dietary intervention for Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Following intensive training fatigue will occur due to depleted glycogen stores. If full recovery is going to occur the vital glycogen stores must be replenished. Muscles can replace glycogen at approximately 5% per hour (Approx. 20 hours to fully replenish). Successful replenishment depends upon careful timing of meals, correct macronutrient composition of meals and correct size of meals. Following intensive exercise, our glycogen synthesising enzymes are more active than normal and we are able to replenish our glycogen at the rate of 7-8% per hour. These enzymes are super-efficient in the first 15 minutes after exercise and remain in an active state for a further two hours after this time glycogen synthesis returns to normal. There is considerable research showing that consistently low carbohydrate intake during and following exercise may contribute to overreaching and eventually overtraining. As the training intensity increases, this becomes even more critical. Eating high glycaemic load carbohydrates during and immediately after exercise will help recovery.
The most critical time is 15 minutes after your jiujitsu training because at this point the body is better prepared to receive and store carbohydrate than at any other time during the day. There are five goals for this brief but important window:
1. Replace expended carbohydrate stores – About 1.5 gm of carbohydrate per Kg of body weight from a mixture of glycaemic load sources. You should take in 50 gm of high glycaemic load carbohydrate, for example, glucose powder and the rest from a low-moderate glycaemic load, for example, fruits or fruit juices.
2. Rehydrate – In the most severe conditions you may lose up to 1.8l of sweat per hour, to replenish fluid levels begin by taking 1.1l of liquid for every Kg lost during exercise. You can find this out by weighing yourself before and after exercise.
3. Provide amino acids for resynthesis of protein – Protein should be taken in at a carb-to-protein ratio of between 4:1 and 5:1. For example, if you weigh 80Kg, using the guide above you should consume approximately 120 gm of carbohydrate and therefore between 24 gm - 30 gm of protein. You can use protein powder made from whey or eggs, it is important to read the labels as many manufacturers add artificial sweeteners and flavours. If you prefer whey protein then I would recommend using whey isolate.
4. Begin replacing electrolytes – These are the salts; sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium lost through sweat. Most of the electrolytes are found in abundance in natural food, which makes their replacement fairly easy. Drinking juice or eating fruit will easily replace salts with the exception of sodium. Two or three pinches of salt must be added to a post-exercise recovery drink.
5. Reduce the acidity of body fluids – During exercise body fluids shift towards an acidic state. The problem is that your body neutralises this acid by releasing minerals into the blood that have a net alkaline enhancing effect. Calcium from the bones and nitrogen from the muscle meet this need. Research has shown that fruits and vegetables have a net alkaline effect. Raisins, spinach and bananas all perform well at this task.
Recipe for post-exercise smoothie
So, how can you maximise your post-exercise recovery within this critical time period? Ideally, you should consume an all-in-one drink, it should address all the issues outlined above and is best in liquid form as many athletes don’t feel like eating directly after an intense training session or tournament, plus the liquid will help to rehydrate.
Personally I love smoothies, they are easy to make and contain everything a post-exercise drink needs. A simple homemade recovery drink should in include: Fruits or fruit juice to provide fluids and low-moderate glycaemic load carbohydrate with electrolytes while reducing blood acidity, glucose (a quickly absorbed high glycaemic load energy source), protein (to replace what was used in exercise and prevent further muscle breakdown), and sodium. You can make a smoothie that fulfils all those requirements, tastes great and most importantly helps maximise your recovery but remember it is also important to eat a well-balanced meal within the two hour recovery period in addition to your post-workout smoothie.